The time has come to roll up our sleeves

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Thomas Strickler
  • 982nd Training Group and AFSO21 Level I Facilitator
Brig. Gen. O.G. Mannon, 82nd Training Wing commander, signed a new Wing Continuous Process Improvement program policy letter Feb. 4 which outlines a fresh approach to the way we look at our Air Force Smart Operations for the 21 Century program here at Sheppard.

In his letter, the general asks for "every employee's commitment and participation" as we seek out and eliminate those activities and practices that cause waste. Some of you may wonder why it is important, or even how you get involved in effecting a change. Or maybe you think it's the job of AFSO21 facilitators to identify improvement initiatives for the base.

This responsibility does not belong to trained and certified AFSO21 facilitators; it belongs to you, the process owners. We are here to manage improvement projects using the "toolbox" at our disposal. However, if you don't ask for assistance, we will never know about the problems you have. If you have ever asked "why," about the way your duty tasks are done then now is the time for action.

AFSO 21 works; I have experienced it over the last 12 months as a facilitator in the 982nd Training Group. Our organization had a problem scheduling personnel that required training as a result of PCS requirements. Our rates were unacceptable, in the 40 percent range and this caused extreme frustration for everyone the program affected.

Tech. Sgt. David Patterson, the group's program manager, asked for help to get things in order and improve our program. We immediately took an internal look at the process to decide where the problems were, which portions added value and which one's didn't. What we discovered led to a Rapid Improvement Event to utilize the LEAN tool of Value Stream Mapping.

This program serves four major commands in addition to a value stream that reaches into three outside organizations; we knew that any arbitrary changes we made here would have the potential of a negative ripple effect elsewhere. Therefore we scheduled and budgeted for all associated personnel to come here to Sheppard as team members. They represented our external customers, or "supply chain" and our internal customers, or "additional process step owners" therefore changes without their inputs were at risk to miss our intended goal.

This RIE went very well as we gained a new and distinct insight into our process. The initial changes we made have enabled us to begin operating in the high 80 percent range and the lines of communication that were opened across the program are priceless. Future operations will no doubt continue to improve as we move forward in meeting our established goals.

Hard work has its rewards; our initiatives have been recognized as we have garnered accolades from every level of command from Air Force on down to our wing leadership. Most recently we were given a "Team Excellence" award during the Unit Compliance Inspection. Does this mean we are now done, or that we should hang our hat on these changes? Just lock them in and move on to the next project? Absolutely not, we can't allow ourselves to do that or we could potentially be back to square one. That is why we call the plans "continuous process improvement" and why the requirement to re-evaluate exists in AFSO21.

Never be satisfied with positive results and take the approach there always is a better way waiting to be discovered.

Some readers are probably saying that the improvement process sounds like a lot of work. Depending on the scope of the project, it certainly can be. If the work is done to make our Air Force better and save resources, then the efforts are not in vain. The example of our en-route training project represents process change on a grand scale and one that is truly enterprise-wide. Most of our potential problem areas here in the 82nd TRW would not require as much effort to produce a recommended improvement action plan.

It is true that these projects do take work and you will find that you need to roll your sleeves up to get involved. I offer to you that the alternative of "suffering in silence" is extra work too because of the process you may be stuck with as a result. You will see a decrease in the amount of work that results from improvement ideas. That is how the system works and it can be no other way.

We just spent the last year preparing for our UCI and I know there are a lot of people here at Sheppard that have seen our problems first hand, not including those identified by our inspectors. We must use this information to act swiftly. The time is now; the call has been made from senior leaders at all levels for you to get off the bench and into the game.

We need every member of Team Sheppard to make this program a success. Facilitators are waiting for your great ideas.

Your ideas will enable us all to roll up our sleeves and unlock the savings.